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Tamara Mellon, Jimmy Choo Co-Founder, On Fierceness

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Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how women have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real-life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold are destined to become.

Tamara Mellon

tamara mellon
Tamara Mellon - Jimmy Choo Co-Founder and Fashion Icon

Renata: Your life shifted recently when you left Jimmy Choo to start your own fashion company. Was it challenging leaving Jimmy Choo? What are the challenges you've encountered throughout your career?

Tamara:It's been so liberating for me. It was a big step because I knew I could just stay at Jimmy Choo for another 5 years and know exactly how much money I would make. I thought I could stay there or take the risk and launch a new company, myself this time. The problem is when you sell your business you end up feeling like a guest in your own house. At Jimmy Choo, we had a lot of investment offers from private equity firms, a male-dominated industry that doesn't really understand the fashion business. For me, Jimmy Choo was a very, very frustrating environment and I actually found it to be oppressive in the end. So I thought, "I don't care, I'm going to leave and start over because I feel so passionate about creating product." If I'm creating product I'm fine, no matter how big or small it is.

What I learned in all those years of working with the male-dominated finance industry is that women need to change the way they think. We have to believe in ourselves more. As women, we just don't. We have to not be afraid to speak up and stop thinking that somebody else knows better. When I first started at 27, older men would come in with their opinions and I would think that maybe they know better than I because they have a Harvard MBA or because they're older, they've been around, or they're in finance. It's just not true. And for me the shame was not speaking up for myself enough and not voicing enough.

In reference to women and women in business, what would you say you stand for?

I stand for speaking up.

What have you experienced that shifted a paradigm in your life and had an impact on your life?

Seeing what happened when I didn't speak up and seeing product or business choices being made that I regretted afterwards. It was an accumulation of these experiences over 15 years at Jimmy Choo that shifted my own paradigm.

When I started, I set out to make beautiful shoes. I didn't think I was going to be facing chauvinistic opinions or gender discrimination. I didn't think about those things until they really started happening.

Do you think your negative business experiences at Jimmy Choo influence the way you handle your own business now?

Absolutely. I've learned to not be scared to vocalize my ideas anymore and I don't worry about what people think of me. There are a lot of labels given to women: "She's difficult," "She's not a team player." My favorite label that a lot of men assign is "She's not a team player." When you actually do voice out, or when you don't do what others want you to do, you're suddenly not a team player. We cant worry about those labels or let them quiet us.

In your life, have you experienced a breakdown moment that led to a breakthrough?

The last deal when we finally sold Jimmy Choo was my breakthrough moment. I was sitting in the banker's office and the room was full of men and as I'm signing one of the partners of the firm came up to shake my hand. He said "I just want to say you've been a really great partner," and I responded, "Well I don't think you have. You've been really abusive and you've handled this deal like a complete amateur." For me, that was a breakthrough because usually I would never say anything I was actually feeling and I would just walk around with the resentment of not having expressed myself. I would be crushed by it and my self-worth would go down because I felt I wasn't standing up for myself.

To learn to not be afraid of confrontation was a huge breakthrough in my life. In that moment I realized the whole world wouldn't collapse because I told this particular partner how I felt. He was shocked, but that was all.

Why do you think women are afraid to speak their minds?

I think it's because we don't teach young girls, in the same way that we teach young men, to be assertive. We grow up doubting ourselves. We're taught to be caretakers so we're people pleasers and don't want to hurt anybody's feelings which has always been a big obstacle for me. By nature we are caretakers and nurturers and research now suggests that this is true. Research now shows that women, particularly women in business, gather consensus more and give back to the community when they make money. What I have witnessed and find most interesting is that when a woman goes in to negotiate a deal, she's not there to annihilate the other party in the room. She is not a silverback gorilla beating her chest and crushing other businesses. We negotiate business very differently. Women tend to be happy if everyone around the table wins, and that is so important for the future of business and economics.

That's why Women on Boards, an organization campaigning to make 20 percent of corporate boards women, would make a big difference in business.

What are your goals for the future?

My goal is to build this business and keep creating products that I love. I'm going to be starting a women's foundation through my company to bring awareness to gender discrimination, unequal pay in the workplace and the sex slave trade. This is what I'm most excited about. I want to incorporate my business into the foundation because I want women to feel that this company is really for them. That's really important to me. We will be using the business to create product and throw events for the foundation.

What inspired you to start a charity at this point in your life and career?

After what I went through dealing with men in business throughout my career and realizing how prevalent it is that women are not paid equally, I realized that I really want to lobby for women and I want to help and support them through my own experiences and knowledge of the industry.

Looking back, what is different about you now from the person you were 10 years ago?

I'm just not scared anymore. I'm not scared of taking risks. I'm not scared of speaking out. I'm not scared of supporting other women. I think you become more rebellious as you get older, for women at least.

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave with your foundation?

I want to have supported many women globally. I want my daughter to be confidant in her decisions and her financial decisions and be independent. Hopefully I can instill all of these values in her that she can then give to her children. The more we do that, the more the world changes.

Put simply - Tamara has lived it. She has taken the steepest road up to success but she has earned it. In her book, In My Shoes, she is very vocal of her naked truth - one which shows that in her authenticity lies her integrity. There is nothing more inspiring to me than to meet an icon who has redefined success for success with significance. I am honored to highlight Tamara as a quintessential paradigm shifter.